"I want to be an engineer"

For aspiring engineers standing at the crossroads, Dr. Ali Khwaja, eminent career counselor and life skills coach, gives some practical tips:

Harish wants to be an engineer. So do Swathi and Rahul. Neelima could not get a seat in Medicine, so now she says she will take up engineering. Aditya loves literature and would have loved to be a journalist, but his parents have (almost) convinced him to take up engineering. All of them are anxiously waiting for the postponed CET counselling to begin on 7th July.

The CET counselling is held every year in Karnataka, as in other states, to allot seats in the over 150 colleges that are affiliated to Visweswariah Technological University (VTU). 50% of the seats in private colleges, 40% in minority colleges, and 100% of the seats in government colleges are allotted through CET, totaling to more than 30,000 seats all over the state. Thus CET continues to be the most popular entrance exam for engineering. Students who get admission through CET pay less than Rs. 20,000 per year fees, as compared to an average of Rs. 1,25,000/- for those who get in through COMED-K , and even higher for those who are admitted through the management quota.

Engineering opportunities for students of Karnataka go far beyond CET. All students are eligible to appear for IIT-JEE which annually allots over 7,000 seats, AIEEE which allots 26,000 seats in NIT's and other Central colleges, and entrance exams of various other prestigious universities all over the country. Many students seek admission in colleges such as Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT), BITS Pilani, Anna University in Tamil Nadu, specialized institutes such as those offering courses in Marine, Aerospace, Environmental or Leather technology.

In Karnataka one also has the option of admission to engineering colleges affiliated to private deemed universities such as Manipal, Amritha, BLDE, KLE, Yenepoya etc. which have their own entrance exams. At the same time one also has the option of pursuing engineering privately e.g. AMIE of the Institution of Engineers India, which is considered equivalent to BE, and correspondence courses in engineering being offered by IGNOU, Aeronautical Society of India, BITS, Karnataka State Open University (KSOU), SRM in Chennai and Thapar in Patiala.

Why Engineering?

The irony of this whole exercise is that after the entire admission process is over, there are inevitably engineering seats left over in the newer and less popular colleges all over the state. Hence let us understand that admission in engineering is not as difficult as it is made out to be. It is true that one has to compete fiercely to get into the most reputed colleges, but that holds true of all educational institutions, starting from school level. The fact to be taken into account is why there is such a tremendous rush for engineering as compared to the innumerable other courses available much more freely.

Since many decades engineering has been the most preferred course of study, not only for those who desire to get into technology, but also for those who want to ensure a good career at the managerial or administrative level. Hence traditionally the cream of best students opt for engineering. The hierarchy in descending order is IIT's, BITS, NIT's, other autonomous institutions, and then the local engineering colleges. Since these colleges attract the best of talent, and grind them through four years of rigorous training that goes beyond classroom and textbook studies, they are inevitably found to be very successful in whatever they take up. For example every year, more than two-thirds of the students who get into IIM's for MBA are from the engineering stream. Many students who clear other competitive exams such as Civil Services (IAS etc.) or Military Service, also come from an engineering background.

While engineering continues to be No. 1 in popularity, one should not be ignorant of the alternatives that are available today:

  • Law has emerged as an excellent foundation for those who aspire for a good career, particularly after the establishment of the National Law Schools all over the country, and the Common Law Aptitude Test (CLAT) for admission in them.
  • Medical and Paramedical graduates are also making their mark in managerial and administrative fields.
  • Other professional courses such as agricultural sciences, architecture, hotel management, pharmacy, integrated M.A. and M.Sc. programs, have been found to be equally good.

Hence Harish, Swathi, Rahul, Neelima, Aditya (and YOU!) need to do some serious introspection before taking the plunge into engineering. Some of the skills you need to be good at if you are opting for engineering, are:

  1. Proficiency in math and physics (if your marks in these two subjects have significantly come down from 10th to 2nd PUC, beware!)
  2. Consistency in your overall scoring pattern. Though the minimum requirement for engineering is 45%, very few candidates of that level who join engineering find it easy to pass in all subjects, and start slipping down.
  3. A mechanical and logical bent of mind, ability to calculate and to think sequentially.
  4. Basic communication skills, confidence levels, a natural curiosity and the ability to pick up new ideas.
  5. Motivation and capacity to work systematically through 8 semesters of assignments, presentations, exams and internships. Those who start developing "backs" in the initial semesters inevitably fall behind and lose a year or two, and their confidence. Employers also keep away from those who have had to repeat subjects.
  6. A genuine desire to learn technology, and not just the attraction of the fact that engineering offers a good career.

Which Branch?

If you feel that you have all the above traits, then comes the question of which engineering branch you would like to study in, and which college would be most suited to you. Start off by becoming aware that there are more than 25 options available, and many of them, just because they are not well-known and popular, are available even if your merit rank is not very high (see Box for list of engineering branches). Do not go by the herd mentality of selecting only those streams that everyone else seems to be going in for. Remember that scope will increase and decrease numerous times in the 40-50 years of your working life.

If you have a passion for a particular branch of engineering, and have found out sufficiently about it, do go ahead and take it up, regardless of what well-meaning but ill-informed people tell you about their "scope." However, if you do not have a strong interest in any particular branch, then it would be advisable to take up one of the basic streams that keep your options open for diversifying into any career of your choice later on. If you are a drawing or design related person, mechanical or civil may interest you, if you are a purely logical person then electronics, telecommunication, instrumentation may be of use to you, if you have a love for computers and can work for long hours on your terminal without getting distracted, then you may opt for Computer Science or Information Science (the latter is 90% same as the former, but less in demand only because not many people know much about it). If you are people and leadership oriented, give a consideration to Industrial Engineering and Management (IEM).

Which College?

Next factor to keep in mind is that the college where you study matters a great deal. If you select a good college, you will get the company of more studious classmates, you will have better teachers and equipment, the environment will be conducive to studies, and your exposure to various experts and guest faculty will be better.

Do not select a college only because it seems to have prestigious companies coming in for campus placement. Firstly, you do not know how the campus recruitment will be four years from now. Secondly, be aware of the fact that most engineers stay in their first job for an average of 1.3 years. This means that within two years you will anyway be competing in the open market for the next job – so you may as well do so in the beginning itself. Thirdly, if the college is giving you a good foundation, you should be able to compete in the open job market and get your first job on your own merit, which will not only build up your confidence, but will give a good start to your career.

Keep in mind that while many top level prestigious organizations go to the most reputed colleges to recruit fresh engineers, it is in your interest to take up your first job in a smaller and less stable company, because your learning there is much better than in huge established set-ups where you are likely to become a cog in the wheel, and start stagnating very soon. This is the reason why even in the best of companies, students recruited through campus placement do not last more than a year or two.

Select your college based on the following:

  1. Check whether the teachers are well qualified and have remained in the college for long duration.
  2. Survey the entire infrastructure, not only to see how good the buildings and equipment are, but also to observe how well they have been maintained.
  3. Check out on the quality and attitude of the students already studying there, talk to them and take feedback.
  4. Find out if that particular college has a reputation in the branch you are opting for.
  5. Check out the rating that NAAC and AICTE have given the college (see their websites www.naacindia.org, www.aicte-india.org, www.aicte.ernet.in)

Do not restrict yourself to your own city or town. There are more than 150 colleges in the entire state of Karnataka. Depending on your merit ranking, you may be able to secure admission in a good college in the other end of the state. Going away from parents and your home-town is in itself a good education and learning about life. This is the reason why all IIT's have traditionally made residing in hostels compulsory for all undergraduate students – a great deal of learning takes place beyond the college hours.

If you do not make it

If in the CET counselling you do not get the branch or college of your choice, immediately explore the COMED-K option if your parents can afford the higher fees, or if you can avail a loan. Alternatively, do not get disheartened, and wait for the Casual Round. You will be surprised how many seats get vacant due to students moving on to better courses or colleges. At the same time, explore various options other than engineering. There are many good courses where admission is available for those who are not toppers, only because those courses have not caught the eye of the general public – even though many of them take you into a lucrative and rewarding career.

Some students are very ambitious, and do not mind losing a year only to sit and prepare for the entrance exams next year, hoping to get into IIT's or good state colleges. This is a very risky option, because the student is not only losing a year, he is in an open environment going only for coaching and not to a regular college – and this may take away his habit of full-time and regular study. If something goes wrong the subsequent year, the student may also lose his confidence and self-esteem, as he has already sat behind one year while all his friends moved ahead academically.

If you are open to exploring, understanding yourself, evaluating rationally, there are innumerable options waiting for you. Pick the best of what is available, and go ahead in creating a wonderful and bright future for yourself!

Branches of engineering available through CET in Karnataka state:

  • Aeronautical
  • Architecture
  • Automobile
  • Biomedical
  • Biotechnology
  • Ceramics
  • Chemical
  • Civil
  • Computer science
  • Electronic Info Tech
  • Environmental
  • Industrial Production
  • Information Science
  • Mechanical
  • Medical Electronics
  • Metallurgy
  • Mining
  • Polymer Technology
  • Printing technology
  • Silk Technology
  • Telecommunication
  • Textile


Published in Deccan Herald, 1st July 2010

Career Guidance

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